WHEN elephants fight, it is the grass that suffer. This African proverb summarises what is going on at the St Dominic’s Children’s home as staff square off, causing the children further pain.
Newsday spent close to three hours at the Belmont children’s home on Friday speaking with the manager, Sister Arlene Greenidge and other staff. The visit came on the heels of a report given by staff members that two children were beaten by another staff member, contrary to law. Greenidge blames workers that came from the Statutory Association Services Commission (SASC) while SASC workers say the problem stem from workers that are contracted through the Ministry of Gender and Youth Affairs. The ministry remains mum, for now.
Two Mondays ago, two children, 8 and 9 were allegedly beaten by a contracted worker after one wore the wrong pants to school and the other the wrong shoes. The worker spoke with Newsday during the visit and denied ever touching the children.
“There are mischievous workers poisoning the children. I read the article and I was like …but I didn’t hit anyone. The article didn’t call my name but people know it was me because my aunt and my mother called me and I never told them about it. They looked at the ages of the children and know is me they referring to.”
The worker added he is forced to do double duties because unionised workers are signing the attendance register and not working. He added that the same unionised workers are the ones poisoning the children’s minds with the two affected children going to bed after 1 am Thursday because they were convinced that “Miss lied on them”.
The unionised workers say the assault on the children was not a figment of their imagination and produced a hand written letter signed by a child claiming he saw the attack on the children. The child said in the letter that he saw the worker beat one of the children with a broomstick while the other was stripped naked and made to do chores. The letter was handed over to the Children’s Authority.
On Thursday an official from the Children’s Authority visited the home and spoke with the staff member who was accused of beating the children. Newsday was told that the children at the centre of the alleged abuse will be removed from the home this week and interviewed away from both factions so there will be no room for intimidation.
Children caught in the middle
Greenidge said: “One issue that emerged was that the public servants on the advice of their union the Public Services Association (PSA) asserted that public officers were not to take instructions from contract workers. The last straw came last year. I wrote to the SASC because we were playing with the children’s mind because the children were in a double-bind.”
The American Psychology Association stated that a double-bind is “a situation in which an individual receives contradictory messages from another person. Double-binding communication was once considered a causative factor in schizophrenia. For example, a parent may respond negatively when his or her child approaches or attempts to engage in affectionate behaviour but then, when the child turns away or tries to leave, reaches out to encourage the child to return.
The caregivers who are mostly public servants hired through the SASC, she said were having meetings with the children pitting them against other staff members. Greenidge added that this was brought to the attention of SASC, but nothing has been done about it. The public servant staff, she added, refused to fill out incident reports, individual care plans (ICP) and other reporting protocols which were now required for the home since it became a certified children’s home and no longer an orphanage.
“There is something in psychology called a double bind where there are two or more parties warring and the children want to please everybody. They want to please sister because sister is the one that give them things. They want to please the public servants because at the end of the day they are living with them (the public servants).”
The public servants are the caregivers that stay at the houses with the children on a 24-hour basis with other staff interacting with them based on their needs.
Petra Ramsubhag, the clinical psychologist at the home, told Newsday some of the children come from extreme abuse and the atmosphere is not conducive for their healing and progression.
“We are seeing in the schools of reports of the children not showing respect. They are just very confused there was a noted increase in the levels of aggression in the kids. And this was from when the tensions rose you could have seen it and like they are crying for help.”
Both factions had one thing in common, they both believe that their impasse is affecting the children. However, they both claim they are fighting in the interest of the children and blame the other side for causing trouble by not doing what is supposed to be done. Newsday did not speak with any of the children at the home as it is illegal to interview a child without the consent of the parent or guardian and given the tussle between the two factions consent would have been problematic.
Unionised staff told Newsday they are being asked to do things which are outside of their job description and they will not be doing any of it.
Questions pertaining to the issues at the home and other homes were sent to the Minister of Gender and Youth Affairs, Ayanna Webster-Roy on February 6, but to date none of the questions were answered.